On New Year's Eve, St. Bonaventure will have the opportunity to make a resolution of their own. The Bonnies begin their Atlantic 10 conference schedule in a matinee with Frank Martin's UMass Minutemen at the Reilly Center. A10 competition gives Bona a de facto new season. Conference play brings a fresh start after struggling to finish out the non-conference schedule, where Bona dropped their last four games.
Coming into the season, few knew what to expect of the new Bonnies, a roster that has zero returning minutes from last year. As expected, non-conference play was an up and down road for Bona's, including both a four game win streak prior to the recent four game skid.
Stringing together wins, including a Power 5 victory against Notre Dame, was massive for the new group. The team has seen what it can do to lead to success.
Bona's non-conference schedule was a challenge, putting the team in road and neutral environments to prepare them for A10 competition and intensity. While some of these tests went better than others, maybe the only sure thing heading into the season with this year's group was growing pains. This is the case for any young team, especially when you do not see a single returning player on the floor night in and night out.
Refinements will continue to happen heading into the conference schedule. Turnovers are an issue, averaging over 13 per game. This should be a focal point as the season continues. However, the non-conference contests did give the new Bonnies much needed time to work out some kinks as they saw true game action next to each other. The hope is that this will result in some additional A10 wins.
"When we get into the conference, anybody can beat anybody." Coach Mark Schmidt said.
Heading into the conference season, the A10 is wide open. Both Fordham and Duquesne have had good starts, sitting atop the conference in terms of non-conference records. However, both schools are toward the bottom of the conference by their strength of schedule.
The likes of Dayton, St. Louis, VCU and others have played tougher schedules which resulted in struggles out of the gate. The varying schedules, on top of injuries that some A10 schools ran into, has added parity as we inch toward conference play.
The A10 has struggled as a whole leading up to this point in the season. Currently, the highest ranked A10 team in the NCAA's NET rankings is Dayton, followed by St. Louis and George Mason. Dayton is the only team in the conference that has a top-100 NET ranking.
SBU is looking at a less than ideal 204 NET ranking following their non-conference efforts. The Bonnies have yet to win a true road game this season, which partly contributes to their poor ranking in the NET.
Bona will have ample opportunities to find their stride in road environments soon.
Although in the RC, Bona's first A10 test against UMass won't be easy. The Minutemen started off the season hot, winning the Myrtle Beach Invitational, a bit reminiscent of the Bonnies Charleston Classic win a season ago. Since then, Frank Martin's team has cooled off a bit, losing at home to UMass Lowell and in a pseudo neutral site game against North Texas in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Each A10 game will be a challenge that coach Schmidt hopes non-conference play prepared his guys for.
"The Atlantic 10 and the conference is what we play for." Schmidt said. "That's the most important time of the year."
After playing UMass at home on New Year's Eve, Bonas will see George Mason for one more game in the RC before their first A10 road test of the year at St. Louis and the nation's assist leader, Yuri Collins.
Featured image courtesy of gobonnies.com and Jon Lopez/@jonlopez13